One of the premier events on the international eventing calendar will be organised by Britain’s lead racing body, bringing a closer link to the two equestrian sports.
The Jockey Club won the tender to organise the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, which get under way at Woodstock in Oxfordshire later this week. Blenheim was the only foray into event management by British Eventing (BE), and its cancellation last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, prompted the BE board to reassess the event’s structure. The role was put up for tender in August, 2020.
BE CEO Jude Matthews said the decision marked the end of an era for British Eventing.
Home to the Dukes of Marlborough since 1705, Blenheim Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Set in more than 2000 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland and designed by Vanbrugh in the Baroque style, it was financed by Queen Anne, on behalf of a grateful nation, following the first Duke of Marlborough’s triumph over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession.
While The Jockey Club’s long and distinguished history in horse racing is world-famous, this is its first venture into the wider spectrum of horse sport.
Blenheim Event Director and the Jockey Club’s Regional Managing Director, Ian Renton, said the club was excited to be involved with such a massive international event, and “for us to be able to apply The Jockey Club’s expertise and experience to such a thrilling sport”.
“In other countries internationally, racing and eventing are closely linked; less so in the UK, and it is fantastic to bridge the gap between the two at Blenheim Palace, which is an iconic venue,” Renton said.
Olympians in the running
Blenheim is the first big target for British rider Tom McEwen, who won eventing team gold and individual silver medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve been delighted and amazed at the attention locally and within the sport, which I probably wasn’t prepared for,” McEwen said.
“It was a huge relief to us to win out there as we knew we were sitting on the best horses in the world, but we still had to prove it.”
All three of the equine stars that McEwen and his Olympic team-mates — Laura Collett and Oliver Townend — rode in Tokyo are graduates of the prestigious CCI4*-S class for eight and nine-year-old horses at Blenheim. And for the first time this class will take centre stage alongside the feature CCI4*-L in the main arena, for which the backdrop is Blenheim Palace itself.
Laura Collett, who won this class on her Tokyo gold medallist London 52 in 2018, welcomed the move and also the increased prize-money.
She said: “Blenheim Palace is a venue and event which is extremely close to my heart. I first rode here in the Pony Club showjumping competition, pigtails flying, as a child!
“It was the first big international horse trials I ever did, and I am so pleased that the young horse class is getting the attention and focus it really deserves.”
Oliver Townend agreed, adding: “Having three things so close to my heart — racing, Blenheim Palace and its history, and eventing — rolled into one is so special.
“My reaction when I heard about The Jockey Club’s involvement was one of pure excitement, and I am really looking forward to riding at the event next week and seeing how The Jockey Club can bring our sport forward.”
The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials gets under way on September 16, with two days of dressage before a weekend of cross-country and showjumping.